Reclining in a restored vintage chair designed by Norwegian designer Henry Klein, Anton Assaad looks perfectly at home. We’re sitting in the back room/function space at Great Dane’s new Fitzroy showroom, an impressive collection of mid-century Danish furniture surrounding us. “This room is now a place for all the vintage furniture that I really didn’t want to let go of,” says Assaad. “It’s a space for me to create something else and just enjoy the vintage stuff.”
Assaad’s love affair with Danish furniture is a long and passionate one. He began Great Dane in 2002 after recognising a demand for the timeless stylings of Danish furniture. He rented out a leaky warehouse in Prahran, paid the rent in cash and imported a 14-tonne crate of mid century furniture straight from Denmark. “I don’t do anything small,” Assaad laughs. The risk paid off and the business flourished. Now Great Dane has two showrooms in Melbourne, one in Sydney and is widely recognised as one of the leading manufacturers of classic Danish furniture worldwide.
To begin with Great imported, restored and distributed vintage furniture but to progress the company Assaad recognised that he would have to expand his operations. “I knew when I first started if I wanted to grow the brand into something iconic and sustainable there was no way I’d be able to go long term with vintage furniture,” says Assaad. So he made the switch to new furniture.
But instead of distributing what everyone else was already selling, he contacted manufacturers he knew could uphold the standard Great Dane is known for and asked them to produce pieces he believed should be put back into production. He then took it one step further and directly contacted retired mid-century Danish furniture makers to discuss working with them to put their designs back into production.
He started with Arne Vodder, a retired Danish architect and furniture designer whom many people assumed was dead. While not as famous as some other Danish designers of his time, Vodder’s influence is undeniably significant. He is most famous for his handle-less rosewood drawers.
“I just wanted to meet him,” says Assaad. “So somehow I tracked him down and we went out for a coffee.” Over that coffee, Assaad told the Vodder he wanted to work with him to put his work back into production. At this stage Vodder was in his late seventies and his work hadn’t been in production for 50 years, but he was open to the idea.
Together they found a manufacturer and worked to reproduce three of Vodder’s designs – the Vodder Tall Boy, No.26 Sideboard and the Vodder Low Boy. They worked hard to ensure the pieces were produced in the same manner they were half a century. “It all had to be done the same way as the originals,” says Assaad. “That was very important.” The result was a collection with all the sensibilities of the originals – a soft, organic feel with a clean, streamlined finish.
Vodder died two years after he met Assaad. In the few months before he passed Assaad called to ask how he was feeling about having his work put back into production and Vodder replied with typical Danish dry humour. “Well I think it’s keeping me alive for a few more days.”
“He was a gorgeous guy; very humble and understated. It was a great privilege and honour to meet him. He’s kind of a piece of history for this era,” says Assaad.
It’s a joy to meet people who love what they do – people who are passionate and dedicated – and who do things well. Assaad is a perfect example of this. “I’m not one of those people who can do something I didn’t like. I wouldn’t do something if I didn’t enjoy it,” he states matter-of-factly.
This energy and passion is reflected in everything Great Dane does, from the staff they hire to the products they produce. To celebrate their tenth anniversary Great Dane has produced a publication titled The Great Life- a visual manifesto of the things the company values most- friends, family and beautiful furniture.
“All of the Great Dane team really want to be here and love what they do. They feel a great deal of pride in what we’re offering,” says Assaad.
From their leather supplier in Sweden to their fabric house in Denmark, they only work with the best suppliers who understand the company’s vision.
“It’s all that stuff that comes together with the furniture that creates the whole picture,” says Assaad. “That is why Great Dane is so successful and why I think people love it.”